A file image of a merchant ship.

Cape Town - For thirty years, South Africa’s merchant ship registry remained empty, despite the country being a major exporter of bulk products, and with more than 80 percent of imports arriving in the country through sea ports.

The Cape Orchid, the country’s newest merchant vessel to be registered since 1985 has changed all that.

On Friday, the ship, flying the South African flag and which was launched on Thursday last week, set sail from Saldanha Bay. The vessel is tracing a route through the seas toward Asia, carrying a cargo of iron ore for delivery in the Asian market. Aboard the ship are three maritime cadets who would conclude their Sea Time during the journey.

The Department of Transport, supported by the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) welcomed the Cape Orchid, which the South African government acquired after negotiations.

“We reached a transformation milestone in South Africa’s shipping and maritime industry this weekend…This is a major milestone for South Africa and a step towards transformation for the shipping industry,” the transport department said.

The department noted how, each year, most shipping lines register their ships outside the country, and how the country relies on about 12 000 foreign vessels to export South African goods to the rest of the world.

For 30 years, unlike other countries, “South Africa did not have domestic shipping to carry its more than 260-million tons of cargo a year”.

Tseitsie Mokhele, SAMSA CEO said that the harsh reality was that “about 98 percent of the country’s internationally bound trade is carried by ships and at least R160 billion a year is paid for shipping services to foreign owners and operators”. He hoped the acquisition and registration of the Cape Orchid would change this.

“With the majority of global trade carried by sea, developing strong, well-functioning maritime transport infrastructure is a key element of economic growth for many developing and emerging countries,” he said.

The department said the Cape Orchid would “be a boost to our maritime economy” and play a role in job creation within the maritime sector, and directly benefit the country’s economy.

Mokhele said: “This registration is among the intended outcomes of Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) engagement to increase trade and co-operation. We are intend on increasing the number of South African ships on the register.”

In comparison, Brazil has a fleet of 172 merchant vessels, Russia has 1 891 vessels, India has 534 and China has 2 044 merchant ships.

“South Africa is well placed geographically to benefit from rising trade between Brics members, and for increased trade into the rest of Africa. With the Department of Transport, SAMSA was able and continues to provide the opportunity for strategic partnerships with maritime stakeholders to spearhead a maritime development agenda for South Africa and Africa,” said Mokhele.

Mokhele said the government through SAMSA wanted to stimulate the maritime industry for employment creation purposes, and growing and developing the maritime economy.

With South Africa being a “major international gateway into Africa”, there is immense potential for the country to benefit from “increased trade between other BRICS countries,” said Mokhele.

Cape Orchid is owned by Vuka Marine, a South African joint venture company between Via Maritime Holdings (South Africa) and K-Line and Hong Kong based Japanese firm, K-Line.

Another vessel, the Cape Enterprise would be registered in the coming weeks.

AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY